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By Steve Baker | Nov 6, 2018
High-volume technical printing equipment

In this second blog of our series on high-volume technical printing, we will be discussing the various screen printing equipment options GM Nameplate (GMN) has available for technical printing. We will examine the different attributes of each type of printing press and assess how they can influence your projects. If you missed our first blog in this series, we encourage you to take a moment to read it here to gain a preliminary understanding of GMN’s technical printing methods and their implications for high-volume programs.

As previously mentioned, there are two main screen printing processes used by GMN for technical printing – sheet-fed and roll-to-roll – and as we’ve already established, roll-to-roll printing is better suited for high-volume technical printing projects. The reasons for why this is will become clearer as we go through the characteristics of GMN’s printing equipment.

Before getting into the specifics, an important concept to understand in general about all the presses is that the run rate is set by the dryer capacity. The attributes of the dryer as well as the project influence the run rate that can be realized. For example, functional inks often require longer to cure, therefore if a technical printing program utilizing functional inks is run on a press with limited drying capacity, it will need to go through the dryer at a slower speed to properly cure. However, if the same project was run on a press with a large drying capacity, it would be able to run at faster speeds since it would be in the dryer for longer. For every new project, the drying parameters must be developed according to that project’s specifications, which ultimately determines speed.

Sheet-fed presses

As with all screen printing equipment, the distinct capabilities and constraints offered by each of GMN’s sheet-fed printing presses determine the viability of the equipment for a potential project. Sheet-fed presses yield varying print area dimensions, for example, from 22” x 30” to 48” x 98”. Another critical feature to be aware of is the run rate for these presses, which on average can range from 160 – 225 impressions per hour. Finally, the dryers that accompany the sheet-fed printing presses at GMN include thermal UV dryers.

Roll-to-roll presses

For roll-to-roll printing, GMN employs four presses with varied capabilities that enable them to fulfill an assortment of technical printing project requirements.

  1. Via printing

    The most noteworthy feature about two of the screen printing presses utilized by GMN for roll-to-roll technical printing is the presses ability to print vias (also known as through-hole printing). When printing vias, after the vias are lasered into the material, ink is then printed on both sides of the roll, forcing the ink through the vias to create a circuit. But the pushing of the ink through the holes leaves excess ink behind on the print bed. If using the sheet-fed method, the operator would have to clean the print bed after every pass, adding additional steps and time to the process. However, GMN’s presses eliminate the need for this added step because they have blotter paper positioned on top of the print bed to absorb all the leftover ink. This blotter paper advances along with the roll of material to ensure that the ink doesn’t smear as the sheet moves forward. In general, these presses print one color at a time, maintain a print area of 20” x 20”, and can accomplish tolerances around .007”. Using UV and thermal dryers approximately four meters in length, the run rate for these presses is about 500-800 impressions per hour.

  2. Tight tolerance printing

    Another roll-to-roll printing press at GMN also only prints a single color at a time, yet it has a print area of 19” x 31”. But the major advantage of this press is printing parts with extremely tight tolerances. This press can reach tolerances within .001” – .002” of the original specifications. To produce these tolerance levels, the press utilizes optical registration cameras to repeatedly establish precise registration for each part and attain the most accurate stacking of ink layers. The machine first pulls the printing image in and then adjusts the screen to achieve a careful stack-up tolerance. In addition, this press uses a 20-foot tower dryer. Tower dryers are beneficial because they make efficient use of their space by having the material serpentine up and down across the body of the equipment, allowing for the parts to stay in the dryer for longer and run at faster speeds. With these elements working together, our tight tolerance printing press offers a run rate of around 200 – 300 impressions per hour.

  3. Efficient run rates & multi-color printing

    The last press at GMN’s disposal offers a print area of 18” x 19.5” and meets tolerances within .007” – .010”. This press’ most significant benefits include its two print stations and substantial drying capacity, which allows it to produce parts at a much higher speed. With both a 40-foot and a 60-foot tower dryer, this press employs dryers that are much larger than our other presses. Again, the tower dryers allow for each part to stay in the dryer for longer, therefore permitting the part to run through the process at a faster rate. The other advantage of this press is that it’s a two-color press. The printing process begins by laying down the first color, followed by the punching of a fiducial next to the image for registration, and then the sheet runs through the first tower dryer. Next, utilizing the registration punch to align with the first ink layer, a second color can be laid down, ending with the sheet going through the second tower dryer. These two capabilities are what make our final roll-to-roll technical printing press the fastest print line at GMN with a run rate of 800 – 1,000 impressions per hour.

When comparing the characteristics of the sheet-fed presses to the roll-to-roll presses, it is apparent why roll-to-roll printing is more suited for high-volume technical printing projects. Not only can these presses achieve much higher run rates, but they can also produce parts at much tighter tolerances and accomplish efficient through-hole printing. With our selection of technical printing equipment, GMN aims to provide our customers with the printing technology that best fits their project’s specific needs. GMN is equipped to accommodate technical printing projects with a vast array of requirements and volumes ranging from low to high. To learn more about our technical printing capabilities, click here.

By Steve Baker | Oct 16, 2018
 High-volume-technical-printing

GMN has extensive experience in technical and functional printing for applications across numerous industries. As we have acquired and developed these expertise over the years, we have also amassed a range of processes, technologies, and know-how through which we can produce these products. As a result, GMN is capable of handling virtually any screen-printed technical printing project with volumes and complexities ranging from low to high.

If you are unfamiliar, technical printing is an overarching term that is used to describe functional printing projects that ask for requirements above and beyond the industry standard. Often seen in highly regulated industries, technically printed parts call for exceptionally tight tolerances and acute product specifications. To gain a deeper understanding of technical printing, learn more here.

When it comes to high-volume technical printing jobs in particular, there are a few aspects that you should be aware of before beginning development. The first major decision to be made is which printing process to utilize. Technically printed parts can be achieved using a variety of printing technologies on the market, including gravure, lithographic, cylinder screen, screen printing, and more. However, at GMN, we have specifically chosen to work with standard screen printing processes such as sheet-fed and roll-to-roll (web) printing as our primary processes.

Therefore, we decided to release a blog series that reviews some of the key facts and considerations for gearing up for high-volume technical printing at GMN. In this first blog, we will be examining the distinct screen printing processes available at GMN for technical printing projects, and how they fit into high-volume production.

Comparison of GMN’s screen printing processes for technical printing

With any new technical printing program, the decision of which printing process to utilize is based on the quantity, size, complexity, and functional requirements of the part. At GMN, there are two screen printing methods that can be applied: sheet-fed or roll-to-roll. These methods differ in their ability to handle the core elements listed above, but overall, the central difference is in how the materials are handled. For high-volume technical printing in general, roll-to-roll is the undisputed best screen printing method for production for several reasons, including run speed, material usage, registration, inline inspection, and printing multiple colors per pass. Although, sheet-fed printing plays an important role in this process at GMN as well.

Sheet-fed

Sheet-fed printing is usually employed on low- to medium-volume technical printing jobs. The sheet-fed process requires an operator to load individual sheets into a press and then remove them after each pass, which adds additional time to the overall job. This, combined with its size and run rate limitations (which we will discuss further in the next blog), is why sheet-fed printing has proven to be an inefficient and more costly method for high-volume technical printing.

However, regardless of which printing method is used for production, the sheet-fed process is always used during the development phase for technical printing projects. This is because the development phase calls for speed and agility when creating several revisions of parts at extremely low volumes and in short intervals.

Roll-to-roll

Roll-to-roll printing is the printing method used for high-volume jobs that often contain a high level of complexity as well, which is archetypical for technical printing projects. During roll-to-roll printing, the material is administered in rolls (or webs) and is secured and continually fed through the press by a system of rollers.

High-volume roll-to-roll technical printing has a large presence in the medical industry with applications such as disposables and electrodes as well as in the appliance industry for capacitive touch applications.

While the sheet-fed process can print essentially the same parts, roll-to-roll printing is better equipped for high-volume technical printing because it can print at much higher speeds, tighter tolerances, and heightened quality levels, which can lead to less material waste and cost savings at these larger volumes. This process is significantly faster than the sheet-fed process because parts are being printed continuously since the material never requires handling. Roll-to-roll can also achieve much tighter tolerances and stack-ups, especially since optical registration can be used. 

Other factors that add to roll-to-roll’s superior efficiency include the ability to perform roll-to-roll fabrication and in-process testing in addition to printing. Roll-to-roll is also preferable for through-hole (or via) printing and offers the possibility of printing multiple colors at once. Again, these are elements that we will dive deeper into during our next blog.

GMN’s advantage with high-volume technical printing

On top of the variety of equipment we possess for each printing process, GMN provides a particular advantage during the development and full-scale production stages of high-volume technical printing projects.

Typically, most high-volume technical printing projects are brought to GMN at the front-end of the customer’s development process. The customer may have their first round of artwork, be generally satisfied with the design, or have started looking into inks, but they need support to prepare and finalize the part design and manufacturing process for high-volume production. That’s where GMN comes in.

GMN’s quick-turn prototyping services help to develop high-volume technical printing projects with unparalleled efficiency and performance. Since we offer both sheet-fed and roll-to-roll printing, our experienced and knowledgeable R&D team can approach customer’s projects with a quicker learning curve. We work with our customers to create multiple iterations of their design with quick turnarounds, allowing the customer to fine-tune their artwork to their specifications while we make sure it’s primed for manufacturing and will produce high yields. What makes GMN distinct is that during this development phase, we build these parts at low volumes with the mindset that they will eventually be used for high-volume printing. This notion drives us to ensure that we not only simulate the exact inks, squeegee types, print directions, and screen meshes, but also replicate the specific drying and curing parameters. Therefore, by the end of development, the artwork is already optimized, which allows for a more streamlined transition to high-volume production.

In general, both printing processes can be used to make technically printed parts, but the project requirements, such as volume, tolerance, and circuit complexity, can determine which method is better for your specific application. However, the performance or availability of many of the characteristics (e.g. run rate, tolerance level, etc.) and capabilities mentioned throughout this blog for each printing process is also dependent on the type of equipment used. This is the topic we will explore in our next blog in this series, so stay tuned.

Anna Minzel, GMN
By Anna Minzel | Jul 26, 2017
Magni-lens doming can increase the life of a nameplate tenfold

GM Nameplate (GMN) worked with Elkhart Plastics to create a nameplate for one of their products: Kong Coolers. After several months of back-and-forth communication, GMN and Elkhart Plastics went from a rough design of the logo to the finished part that is now being manufactured and placed on all Kong Coolers.

Elkhart Plastics had a list of things they wanted for their part, but some ideas were too intricate to manufacture and wouldn’t fit their budget. However, GMN’s knowledgeable team knew how to achieve the desired look the client wanted. GMN’s wide set of capabilities allowed for all of the different processes required to make this nameplate to be done under one roof: embossing the base layer, screen printing the various logo colors, and affixing the urethane dome (Magni-lens).

Kong Coolers are positioned as one of the most durable coolers in the market and are built for harsh environments. That being said, the nameplate required for this cooler also needed to be durable. The initial design had an aluminum base to achieve a metallic look. However, there was concern for the first design of the nameplate: the adhesive on the embossed regions of the nameplates wasn’t touching the cooler, which left a little amount of surface area to adhere to the cooler.

GMN solved this issue by using silver Mylar instead of aluminum. Silver Mylar is a much more flexible material, so the embossed regions were able to make contact with the cooler. Silver Mylar still gave the logo a metallic look, but was a less expensive option that already came with an aggressive adhesive on the back.

To increase the logo’s durability, GMN applied a Magni-lens layer to the nameplate. Magni-lens is a clear urethane dome that is capable of tremendous impact resistance, while still maintaining a modern look. With the stronger adhesive and the domed urethane cover, this nameplate can survive anything Kong Coolers can survive.

GMN helps customers with design considerations for manufacturability to create superior products. With years of experience, our team knows the best processes to accomplish desired aesthetics while producing the part as economical as possible. In addition, we are able to get samples out quickly for testing to ensure they have the highest degree of quality before going into full production.

For another example of a Magni-lens cooler nameplate, check out this previous blog.

By Sandy Dick | Jul 11, 2017
CONMED membrane switch assembly

CONMED, a global medical technology company, came to GM Nameplate (GMN) in need of a membrane switch for the control panel of their surgical generator. With diverse capabilities and decades of experience working with the medical industry, GMN was able to provide not only each component of the membrane switch, but the complete, value-added assembly of the part as well.

The graphic overlay was printed using a combination of screen and litho printing and included multiple display windows and LED indicators. The overlay’s background colors were screen printed to achieve a high opacity, which helped to prevent light bleed from the illuminated LEDs. Litho printing was used to apply fine details and halftone patterns to the part. A halftone dot pattern was printed on top of the background to create a gradient effect on the keys and along the top of the overlay. Creating a halftone pattern that achieved the customer’s desired aesthetic proved to be challenging, but the ideal look was reached after several trials of testing various pattern constructions (altering dot size and space between the dots). GMN also printed the membrane circuit that goes behind the overlay and connects to the LEDs and switches.

Another challenge faced during this project was choosing the correct snap domes for the different-sized keys to create a good tactile feel. The difficulty stemmed from the unusual shapes of the keys and various sizes of domes. As a consistent layer across the entire part, the spacer interacts simultaneously with every dome and affects each dome size differently. Therefore, GMN had to carefully review the stack-up to include a spacer layer with the optimal thickness to give every dome size enough room to provide a crisp tactile feel.

A variety of layers were required in the stack-up in order to ensure that the part would function properly. ESD shielding was placed under the circuit connector to protect from static discharge and an aluminum subpanel was added to support the otherwise flexible structure. A foam gasket surrounded the outside of the panel to seal the area from outside moisture and fluids. Finally, due to a concern of the closeness to the electrical components beneath the panel, an insulating layer was added to the backside of the subpanel to prevent the electrical components from shorting out against this metal layer.

From early development through full-scale production, GMN worked closely with the customer to develop this product and provide design considerations for part manufacturability. As a product used in the operating room, GMN held multiple pilot runs to ensure the part functioned as intended and met the customer’s standards. 

CONMED surgical generator with GMN's membrane switch assembly.

Gail Amole, GMN
By Gail Amole | Jun 22, 2017
USNR aluminum decal

GM Nameplate (GMN) created an aluminum label for USNR, an innovative company that manufactures a complete line of state-of-the-art equipment for cutting, handling, and drying lumber. USNR started as a small sawmill equipment supplier and has grown to be a global leader in the wood processing industry. 

USNR came to GMN to find a way to cut costs on their current nameplates in order to continue to maintain a strong brand identity on all of their equipment. Although changes needed to be made, USNR still favored the finish and dimensions of their prior nameplate. Luckily, GMN had the expertise to provide an aluminum decal with the same look and feel, but at a lower cost.

The first step of a printing job is often color matching. This step mattered a great deal to USNR because their prominent red color is such a distinct part of their brand. Therefore, it was imperative that the correct shade of red was achieved on the decal. GMN’s custom color-matching capabilities allow us to accurately color match from a variety of different sources – in this case it was a coffee mug.

Given the nature of the industry, the label also had to be extremely durable. After collaborating with USNR, GMN decided to screen print the label on .008 aluminum with a .005 3M adhesive backing. The aluminum label was fabricated with a steel-rule die, and thermal-embossed with a magnesium die to give the part more depth and make the logo pop. To complete the look, the part was given a satin polyurethane finish.

The end result met all of USNR’s aesthetic, durability, and cost requirements. The printed aluminum decal has a sleek look that aligns with their brand identity, protects against harsh environmental conditions, and allows USNR to expand the use of their branding components.

Jeff Friday, Marketing Specialist at USNR says it best, “With the per-unit costs reduced by 60%, it added great flexibility for us to use more of them in many more applications. It was a big win for us!”

Chris Passanante, GMN
By Chris Passanante | Nov 15, 2016
Screen printing is a popular plastic decorative option for achieving large graphics.

With multiple plastic decorative options available, it can be tricky identifying the correct solution for your program. Throughout this blog series, we will discuss different plastic decorating capabilities and the considerations of each. Today we’ll look at screen printing in particular.

In the first article of this series, “Plastic decorating: pad printing” we discussed pad printing. While pad printing is limited to smaller sizes of artwork, screen printing excels in larger coverages of ink for bigger graphics. This printing technology applies ink to the plastic part through mesh material. During the screen fabrication emulsion process, the pitch of the screen determines where the ink is applied. Screen printing is a good choice for high volume production programs and has the ability to decorate multiple parts at the exact same time. Additionally, there is a shorter set-up time associated with screen printing compared to other decorative options. For best results, flat surfaces are ideal for the screen printing process as well.

Because screen printing is optimal for large swatches of graphics, achieving the details of fine artwork can be challenging. A longer curing time can be associated with this process as well, especially if conventional drying inks are used without a UV system. Despite these challenges, screen printing is a popular technology that has successfully met many program requirements.

Our next decorative technology, hot stamping, provides the ability to achieve metallic colors.

Check out other blogs from this series to learn about more plastic decorative options:

By Sandy Dick | Nov 4, 2016
Adaptive Interfaces overlay produced by GM Nameplate.

Adaptive Interfaces came to GM Nameplate (GMN) to manufacture six different overlays for instruments used in aircraft cockpits. The six overlays had the same shape and colors, but varied in text according to the overlay’s purpose. GMN manufactured overlays for the decoder, encoder, electrical status, oil status, engine temperature, and engine performance monitors.

With GMN’s rapid prototyping capabilities, Adaptive Interfaces was able to receive prototypes quickly to use as a visual for board meetings and discussions. The prototypes were digitally printed using a textured substrate, allowing for fast delivery.

For the production run, the overlay was screen printed. The overlay’s graphics were printed with translucent ink for illumination in dim lighting, and the windows were printed using transparent ink so that the display behind the overlay could readily show through. The adhesive was laser cut and later lined up and adhered to the overlay before fabrication with a steel rule die. The lettering was backprinted and an anti-glare finish was applied the entire overlay.

At GMN, we provide design solutions to help customers navigate through any hurdles to ensure the production of high quality products. 

By Brian Rowe | Oct 12, 2016
Membrane switch panel for  Given Imaging's medical device.

Given Imaging, a medical technology company, came to GM Nameplate (GMN) to assemble a membrane switch panel for their medical device. When configuring a membrane switch, many factors about each component layer must be taken into consideration. 

As the user interface for a medical device, the screen printed and embossed overlay needed to satisfy stringent requirements. The overlay must act as a sealant to prevent moisture and fluids from reaching the membrane. Additionally, the overlay must be chemical and scratch resistant to combat the strain of daily use. 

Common overlay materials include polyester and polycarbonate. Both materials are affordable options that will protect the circuit membrane from scratches, chemicals, and liquids. Due to the durability of screen printed inks, backprinting is a frequent practice to mitigate product wear and tear from everyday use.    

This Given Imaging overlay contains three colors - teal, white, and a black opaque layer. The opaquing layer was selectively applied around the LEDs which allowed light to shine through and prevented light bleed through unwanted areas of the overlay. Because of the opaquing layer, light only showed through the indicator icon on a button instead of throughout the whole part.

When looking at membrane circuit materials, printed silver ink in lower volumes provides a cheaper option than copper etched circuits, such as Kapton, while still offering comparable performance capabilities. Finding the right membrane circuit for the product application is necessary to manufacture a quality membrane switch.

For more information about GMN’s membrane switch assemblies, visit our capabilities page.  

Anna Minzel, GMN
By Anna Minzel | Aug 24, 2016
A Fluke laser radiation label using litho and screen printing

Each printing process has its own advantages and disadvantages. Because of these differences, multiple printing processes can be used for the same part. This Fluke radiation label uses two different printing capabilities – litho and screen printing.

Litho, or offset printing, is often used for very fine text because with screen printing, fine text may become distorted or blurry. During screen printing, the paint is forced through a screen onto the material, leaving more room for error on fine print. In lithographic printing, the ink is transferred from a stone or metal plate to the correct image areas using the repellent properties of water and ink. Lithographic printing for fine text creates a clear, consistent text.

For this part, lithographic printing was used for the fine print and screen printing was used for the colors. The opaque ink colors allowed for backlighting capabilities. During the screen printing process for the colors, the white was not placed over the red color to ensure the red color could be backlit.

Tight registration is essential for small parts because correctly lining up the label can be a challenge when there is little room for error. For more accurate registration, registration holes were used. These holes tell the machine where the part is and where to aim. Without tight registration, the green color around the embossed button would be off-centered and the transparent red section would be distorted. The tight registration allows for a more accurate label.

At GMN, we provide offset, flexo, screen, and digital printing. Find out more about our printing capabilities by reading our printing capabilities blog series.

By Steve Baker | Aug 9, 2016
Via printing with webline

In a previous blog, we learned that vias are pathways connecting both sides of the polyester substrate creating a two-sided circuit. Today, we will discuss the difference between sheet printing and webline printing through the process of vias printing.

During the sheet printing process, after each sheet has been printed, the press table needs to be hand-wiped to ensure the ink will not smear and ruin the printed circuit. In webline printing, the machine has a wiper mechanism, automating the process. Using webline printing increases production speeds and creates a more streamlined printing process.

Beneath the print bed lies a roll of wiper material. When unrolled, the wiper material moves up to the top of the print bed. The print head puts down the ink and as the substrate advances along, the wiper material moves simultaneously, preventing the ink from smearing. Then printed parts move through a thermal tunnel drier to cure the ink.

GM Nameplate has extensive printing capabilities, including offset, flexo, screen and sheet fed screen printing. We also offer multi-color sheet fed screen printing, roll-to-roll, and digital printing. GMN’s wide range of printing capabilities allows us to find the right printing solution for each application.    

To learn more about vias and their use in two sided circuits, check out this blog post.  

Below are images of the webline press in action.

Wiper material

Substrate

Via printing